|Iranian President, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad|
The coming Federal election will be a contest between a social and economic conservative (John Howard) and a marginally less social and economic conservative (Kevin Rudd).
Those so-called progressives, such as Robert Manne, hoping that a Rudd victory would usher in a period of more reflective foreign policy and the ability to say ‘no’ to Washington, are kidding themselves. On this point alone, a recent Australian editorial is spot-on.
The Labor Party is not the utopia imagined by people like Manne, but rather a business that may tinker around the edges of domestic policy, but maintain an essentially US-focused outlook. The key question facing a newly elected Rudd Government (or a re-elected Howard one) is a possible US or Israeli-led strike on Iran.
Prominent Leftists like Manne remain silent on such matters, preferring to comfort themselves with a Labor Party that exists solely in their minds. Memo to Manne: today’s ALP is utterly removed from the Hawke/Keating years. This is something to be applauded.
Our commentariat, those critical of the Howard years, gushed at the first sight of Paul Keating during the campaign last week, but rose-coloured glasses are a convenient way to distort recent history. For the supreme crime of cosying up to Indonesian dictator General Suharto during the years of genocide against the East Timorese people, both Keating and Hawke are forever tarred.
Likewise, Hawke’s involvement in the 1991 Gulf War that saw the death of over 200,000 Iraqis is glossed over by those who see the end of Howard’s reign as an end in itself. Many Iraqis in today’s insurgency against the Americans remember well the brutal tactics deployed by the allies during the 1991 war, an unrelenting aerial bombardment that traumatised a generation. But why let facts get in the way of a comforting narrative that sees the likely defeat of Howard and his Government?
The job of robust political criticism is the ability to not barrack for any side of politics, aware that they are all equally compromised. Most of our leading commentators are political hacks, either supporting the ALP or Liberal Party. It’s hardly insightful to highlight the delusions of the Murdoch press when it comes to matters of war and peace. We all know that for them Iraq remains a noble liberation (and the death of over one million civilians an inconvenient truth). It takes greater stamina to highlight the fallacy of a two-Party system that allows near unanimity on the incestuous relationship between Canberra and Washington.
But if history can be airbrushed for the dirty art of winning an election, the coming war against Iran requires a more clear-headed response. The London Times recently reported that Australian SAS forces were already operating inside Iran. It can be fairly presumed that if Howard wins re-election on November 24, his Government would join any military action against the Islamic Republic. But what of a Rudd Government? On the available evidence, we should be highly concerned.
Rudd and his Foreign Affairs spokesman Robert McClelland have announced that they would endeavour to bring Iran’s President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad before the International Court of Justice for inciting genocide. It’s a hare-brained idea with zero chance of success, just another move to attract a Jewish vote that, over the past 11 years, has become increasingly fond of Howard’s unyielding support for Israel.
In early October, McClelland argued that his Party’s desired move against Ahmadinejad was wise foreign policy. Then this: the ‘alternative to not using these international legal mechanisms is considering wholesale invasion of countries, which itself involves, obviously expense, but more relevantly, of course, the potential for significant loss of life.’
It was an astoundingly ignorant and dangerous statement. Was a senior ALP figure seriously suggesting that the only alternative to legal proceedings against Iran’s President was an unprovoked attack against the country’s supposed nuclear facilities? This was far more serious than McClelland’s publicised ‘gaffe‘ when he said that the Labor Party opposed the death penalty in all cases.
There is no doubt that Washington is gearing up for a strike against Iran. Recently imposed sanctions are just the latest unilateral move designed to escalate an already-tense situation. It is worth reflecting on Sunday’s comments by International Atomic Energy Agency chairman Mohammed El Baradei:
I have not received any information that there is a concrete, active nuclear weapon program going on right now We have information that there have been maybe some studies about possible weaponisation. But we are looking into these alleged studies with Iran right now But have we seen having the nuclear material that can be readily used into a weapon? No. Have we seen an active weaponisation program? No. So there is a concern, but there is also time to clarify these concerns.
After the corruption of the intelligence process over Iraq, I’ll listen to El Baradei over Dick Cheney any day.
A Rudd Government would likely sanction a US-led strike against Iran. Perhaps covertly, but Rudd has offered no assurances that he believes the Bush Administration should not be trusted over its Iran policy. Besides, arguing against the Iraq invasion is a luxury that Rudd would never indulge in power. Not unlike Howard and a host of past Labor Prime Ministers, Washington’s call is one that Australian leaders find impossible to resist.
Iran is a repressive, theocratic State that has greatly increased oppression against its own people since the 2005 ascension of Ahmadinejad. As a leading US scholar wrote recently, Iran is a not a threat to Israel, merely a challenge to its regional hegemony. There is undoubtedly a power struggle currently underway between Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, Ahmadinejad and more moderate Islamist forces.
None of these developments justify a pre-emptive military strike, however, and merely reinforce the belief that Iran, along with Syria, are nations that refuse to submit to American bullying. And it is for this reason alone, it seems, that Iran must be attacked.
A likely Rudd Government may be forced to make a decision on this matter within months of assuming office.
Silence is not an option. If Rudd, like Howard, joins America in an unprovoked attack against a Middle Eastern nation, he will be as worthy of contempt as our current Prime Minister.